Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Mysterium

Introduction

There’s been a murder at Warwick Manor and only one witness can help investigators find the culprit. Unfortunately, that witness is a ghost. A special team of psychic investigators must interpret visions the ghost gives them to solve the mystery before the murderer gets away.

Mysterium is a cooperative murder mystery game for 2-7 players and takes about 45 minutes to play.

Game Play

Players form a team of investigators trying to solve a murder. The goal of the game is to find the perpetrator, location, and murder weapon.

One player has the role of The Ghost. They know which suspects the players must find. They have a deck of Vision Cards that they use to guide the other players.

In each round, the Ghost gives each psychic detective player one or more cards that the player uses to determine which suspect to guess. After each psychic has made a guess about the suspect, the ghost reveals if they were correct. Once a psychic finds their suspect, they then move on to guessing the location, then the weapon used in the murder.

The psychics only have seven rounds to find their group of suspects, locations, and weapons. If they do that successfully, the ghost gives one final set of clues that lead to the ultimate perpetrator.

MysteriumGame Experience

There are two different experiences of play: that of the ghost and that of the investigators.

As the ghost, you have the fun of guiding the other players, but also the responsibility if your clues lead them down the wrong path. Since Mysterium is a cooperative game, you become the most important person to the success of the team.

As an investigator, you are responsible for deciding where the clues point. The ghost can only provide you with an abstract picture clue, they can’t tell you what pieces of that picture apply. The fun for you is to draw commonalities between the clues and see where they lead.

Your game play with Mysterium is only as good as the people you play with. The first few games can be a real struggle as you try to understand how the people you play with think. But it is a lot of fun to discuss with others and play to the way they think.

Mysterium is a visually stunning game. The Gothic theme runs throughout. The art of the clues is magnificent. There are so many details in the cards to keep you interested in the game for many games of play. Each game changes based into the clues and the people playing.

Final Thoughts

If you loved Clue as a child, Mysterium is a great game for you. There isn’t the certainty of Clue, but you don’t have to worry about the monotony either. The hints are more subject to interpretation and knowing the people you play with is essential.

I really like Mysterium for the ability to replay over and over without having the same situation appear twice. I enjoy playing the part of The Ghost, but it’s fun to rotate that responsibility. I highly recommend playing this and think it will make a good inclusion to any game collection.

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Forest Frights!

Forest Frights! by Kristin Battestella

Here’s a round up of wooded perils and forest fears – as if the ticks weren’t bad enough!

Bird Box Foreboding radio reports, risky rapids, blindfolds, and children not allowed to talk belie the lovely rivers and still forests of this 2018 Netflix thriller directed by Susanne Bie  (The Night Manager) starring Sandra Bullock (Practical Magic), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), John Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire), and B.D. Wong (Awake).

Nothingness point of views from behind the blindfold accent the backpacks, lead lines, titular pets, riverside boats, and rowing toward the dangers unknown. If you look you will die, and mom means business as fog and water perils add to the lack of sight unease. Five years before, our mom-to-be is arguing with her sister and painting art full of disconnected, lonely people.

These women have realistic conversations with layered dialogue and familial quips, but the relatable doubts about motherhood and everyday big decisions degrade into mass crowds, suicide reports, sudden hysteria, and panic as something seen by some but not others results in slow motion car accidents, road rage, and shocking deaths. Unlikely strangers fearing demons or religious judgment and arming themselves are thrust together amid busy signals, screaming cell phone calls, no media, and no military help. Is this some new biological warfare making people see something that kills themselves?

Birds sense the danger and a faint growling, but cameras are to no avail and our family on the river will only remove their blindfolds when huddled under blankets as the story goes back and forth between their journey with static on the radio and our previously housebound survivors concerned with rationing and the pregnant women among them. It’s tough to think about baby names when electricity, supplies, and shotgun shells won’t last. No one was prepared for the apocalypse to happen that day. Do they let others inside their abode or listen to voices on the riverbank saying it is okay to take off the blindfolds? Desperate runs to the nearby supermarket for essentials such as canned goods, toilet paper, diapers, booze, and electronics use GPS only, with windows blacked out, tape over the cameras, and proximity sensors to warn when something comes near.

The slow burn suspense allows time for these disparate strangers to forge late friendships amid fears they are all going to die and debates about living versus surviving in these topsy-turvy circumstances. Some briefly consider staying in the supermarket – leaving others behind while they maintain all they need despite the escalating violence outside. Whiskey talking admits how bleak the situation is while others hope things may get better.

However, five years later our mother is still rowing toward the unknown possibility of safety as the family dangers on the boat increase. Of course, a few people do some foolish things, and there may have been other options than taking the most dangerous course of action. The supposedly helpful birds are useful or forgotten as needed alongside somewhat obvious metaphors about the people being who’s actually box-bound and resorting to new, heightened senses. Understandably, the tension escalates when outside influences are let in – one by one people are lost as suspicious newcomers knock and hopeful possibilities end with appropriately blunt gunfire and shootouts. Training to survive without sight becomes paramount while terror in the home, outdoor separations, and family sacrifices test the temptation to look.

Thanks to the courage and drama here with frights real and fantastic, there’s no need for any spoon fed twist, toppers, scary movie cliches, or bombastic  horror in your face. The multi-layered studies and suspense are well-interwoven, progressing naturally as the isolated settings allow the performances and storytelling to carry the must see intensity.

It Comes at Night Gas masks, bodies in the wheel barrow, and backyard executions open this 2017 thriller as rough and bearded Joel Edgerton (Loving) does what he has to do for his wife and son. It’s excellent to see an interracial family front and center – horror needs to stop being blonde babes all the time – but we know things won’t bode well for the family dog! The lone lantern light and shadows traveling through the expansive but boarded up log cabin add a certain sadness to match the sans electricity, long dark hallways, plastic sheeting, and one red door to enter or exit.

Pictures of good times line the walls – the days before this unexplained plague necessitated rifles, the defending of one’s castle, and shoot first ask questions later mentalities. What do you do when another family of three is in need of food and shelter? Flashlights, outdoor sweeps, and night time blues aide the tense family protection amid gory dream scares, body horror, and tied up intruders. Interrogations provide talk of precious water, sickness in the city, going off the grid, and trading for supplies. Men can understand these desperate measures when seeing to their families, but can they trust each other? A family conference votes to welcome the new trio in their secure homestead, yet the skeptical, suspicious, on guard feelings remain thanks to the desolate roads, car crashes, and gunshots outside.

There are rules to the home, too: they eat together, always travel in pairs, and never go out at night.The families bond over chores and even laugh when reminiscing about desserts or liquor, but barking, noises in the woods, and sleepwalking encounters keep everyone on edge. Testy accusations lead to separations and putting others at risk to save one’s own family. No one here is a bad person, but such extreme situations make good people do terrible things.

This claustrophobic parable remains tense and doesn’t overstay its welcome – but it didn’t need the extra horrors or double dream fake outs as the social examination scares and siege stress are enough. Although the unexplained elements continue the debate after the picture ends, it also seems like important staples go unclarified. Were they sick all along? Is there something supernatural at work or not? Some audiences may find the lack of answers a waste, but the subdued chills and bleak statements remain intriguing.

The Passion of Darkly NoonThe titular Brendan Fraser stumbles injured upon the unwittingly tempting Ashley Judd and her mute but charming boyfriend Viggo Mortensen in a surreal wood for this 1995 psychological thriller. While the DVD has low volume and an odd aspect ratio, there’s a golden glow and crisp country white to match the pretty outdoors and should be quaint cottage. Minimal music parallels the natural cricket sounds and rainstorms – but the idyllic springs and hidden grotto are no match for ostracized Judd’s tight tops, tiny dresses, and sweaty mellow.

“Extremist Ma and Pa picked my name from the Bible,” Fraser stutters over past cult persecutions. We don’t see the trauma he recounts but immediately sense the disturbed attraction and late blooming Oedipal complex as “Lee” remains buttoned up in the heat and standoffish, not hearing the notion to leave strict religious groveling for not necessarily sinful ideals.

There’s much to explore, a fresh start on a new homestead, but he’s too distracted by the nineties Skinamax. The naughty atmosphere rises with obsession turning into mea culpa harm, but Viggo (“He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!”) does well with no dialogue as the tensions mount. Backwoods colloquialisms add to the kooky yet friendly characters, but what’s with the literally flaming, giant, glittering shoe floating down the river? A Circus, elephants, apples, religious stewing – viewers must be in the right mood to digest this slow burn symbolism.

Hear tell of who’s crazy; a witch, or the monster of the woods adds to the secrets and rival testimonies. Is it an evil bewitchment when your husband has a heart attack over a tempting woman appearing in the forest? Fear mongering, curses for one’s sins, justice, punishment – where’s the happy medium beyond the escalating blood, barbed wire, and bizarre visions?

The brooding drama becomes increasingly unreliable as this purgatory cycle repeats, for each fanatical person entering this Eden-like grove ruins it a little more. A savage siege leads to red warpaint, hellish flames, and howling in a fine performance from Fraser, who is perhaps more known for his comedies rather than dramas. While this could have been totally horror or straight steamy, some serious, tender, or scary scenes are dated, laughable, and bemusingly infantile. Fortunately, this character study on passion as both sex and sacrifice is an interesting in limbo morality play with saucy fun and tempting extremes perfect for a late night trippy.

Pyewacket – Playing the daughter, Nicole Munoz (Defiance) invokes the eponymous evil to kill mom, Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) in this 2017 Canadian parable featuring creaking forests, goth rebels, and can’t take it back terrors. Our widowed mother is doing her best to keep it together and wants a fresh start, but moving is the worst thing for a teen with awkward crushes and an inseparable BFF.

Relatable conversations on support versus instability, transferring schools, driving, and bad influences endear both ladies to the audience – even her friends insist parents are just as screwed up as teenagers. Music is in the background rather than overwhelming viewers, a realistic rather than Hollywood choice. As the camera follows this goth gang through the school hallways. We’re the fifth member of the group and caught in the middle from the backseat as the vengeful spell casting looms.

Pizza, a relatively small cabin, mom needing a weekend job, and say hey, a Latina lead, yes please – it’s as if writer and director Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) had a list of horror cliches and insists on how not to incorporate them. Although it’s not expressly said to be Halloween, fallen leaves, pumpkins, cawing crows, sage, chants, binding rituals, and blood bowls and owl motifs accent the occult primer. Despite the careful preparation and craft materials, there’s an underlying sense of a not listening teen doing something she shouldn’t – especially when mom apologizes and the gals bond over memories of the deceased. Her friends think this is all just acting out for attention, but soon enough indeed our daughter regrets the ritual. Unfortunately, a locked door can’t keep out Pyewacket. Ominous knocks and creepy attic access escalate to vehicular frights, and innocuous shots – shadows about the house, rustling in the woods – become suspect while we wait for the subtly disturbing entity.

Overhead slow spins and gradual zooms build unease as friends disappear before the camera shakes with unreliable delirium thanks to unfinished rituals, unexplained appearances, and darkness. Is this evil trickery mounting or is a scared teen roaming in the disorienting woods? Are forgiveness and reverse spells enough to put everything right when this festering horror was summoned in spite of, “be careful what you wish for,” warnings? Visions of the dead, distorted vocal inflections, rattling doorknobs, and pleas to be let in provide terror as this freaky manifestation is revealed. Some may not like the quick finale, but knives, gasoline, fiery mistakes, and a bitter comeuppance create a creepy atmosphere that does what it is says on the tin. Those skinny pants, however, are not going to look good in a few years.

Book Review | GATE 4: PART ONE: THE EATER

Book Review: Gate 4: Part One: The Eater by Terry M. West

More a teaser than a terrifying tale, Gate 4: Part One: The Eater is the first episode of a six-part serial novel by Terry M. West about a portal located in a bunker beneath a forgotten city in north-central Texas. Called Gate 4, the portal is the only defense against an ancient evil that could destroy the world.

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West

GATE-4-NEW-logo-ad-768x761The gate is guarded by a group of monsters recruited by a secret organization. The Eater introduces one of the monsters, a vampire named Paul Marrane. After leaving a honky-tonk bar, Marrane is ambushed by gun-wielding soldiers and approached by a mysterious mind-reader named Lucas Glover.

“I’m offering you a purpose,” Glover tells Marrane. “A chance to make a difference. To be more than a soulless killer.” Marrane initially balks but shows interest in joining when Glover promises to help the vampire piece together his forgotten past.

The Eater sets the table for an intriguing series by promising a motley cast of characters and by sparking interest in the mystifying force behind Gate 4.

 

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: The Tokoloshe…Where She Goes it Follows.

 

PlotlineBusi, a destitute woman with seriously repressed emotions, lands a job as a cleaner at a run down hospital in the heart of Johannesburg. Desperate for money so she can also relocate her younger sister, she learns to cope despite the predatory and corrupt hospital manager.

However, when Busi discovers an abandoned girl in the hospital, one who believes she’s tormented by supernatural forces, she must also face her own past demons in order to save the child from the monster that pursues them both relentlessly…

Who would like it: People who enjoy global folklore and mythology, foreign films and subtitled movies, movies with double meanings and a diverse cast of characters.

High Points: Very original story line with a parallel plot lines. Strong acting and a smart, resourceful female lead

Complaints: Half of the movie is spoken in English and the other in Xhosa (?) and there are no subtitles for the native language.

Overall: I really enjoyed this film and I like people looking for something a little different, something more in their horror entertainment will like it too.

Stars: 3 1/2 Stars

Where I watched it: Was provided a review link.

***

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyer miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

Book Review: Revenge of the Vampir King by Nancy Kilpatrick

Book Review: Revenge of the Vampir King by Nancy Kilpatrick

Content Warnings: This book contains graphic descriptions of rape, domestic abuse, and torture.

Revenge of the Vampir King (Thrones of Blood Book 1) by [Kilpatrick, Nancy]In Revenge of the Vampir King, Nancy Kilpatrick blends horror, paranormal fantasy, and erotica to explore the relationship between love, tragedy, revenge, and what it means to be a family.

Through the centuries, an immortal war has raged between the Sapiens and Vampirii. The world is bitterly divided between the two races.

After a successful attack against the Sapiens, the Vampirii return with an unusual prize: Valada, the daughter of the Sapiens King.

Hell-bent on the ultimate revenge, the Vampir King Maorte devises a hellish plan of manipulation—make the princess fall in love with him and betray her father—never suspecting that he will fall into is own trap.

As dark secrets are uncovered, new alliances are formed. Valada and Moarte must learn to trust each other in order to settle old scores, bring about lasting peace, and save their kingdoms and, perhaps, themselves.

The plot is gripping, seamlessly pulling the reader along on a tense journey. The pacing is excellent, with no time to become bored. There are plenty of twists and turns, with shifting allegiances. One thing is for certain, you never know exactly what will happen next. Each new conflict feels enormous, raising the stakes ever higher.

The characters are complex. Each has a multitude of motivations. Flaws and strengths motivate each and motivations are clear and realistic. This gives the book a sense of real-world conflict. Characters aren’t evil for evil’s sake (though some are undeniably evil).

Valada, who has suffered under a lifetime of abuse, struggles to orient herself in her new position, constantly doubting her place with others, but never herself. She’s a strong heroine and saves Moarte every bit as much as he saves her.

Moarte is a man of two worlds. Though he leads the Vampirii, he is half Sapien as well. Reconciling those differences may bring him to conclusions that have profound ramifications for his life and his kingdom.

Kilpatrick forges an ambitious, unique world, fearlessly diving into fantasy world building without looking back. Revenge of the Vampir King is all the better for it. We are thrown right into the world, rather than given a hesitant introduction. The universe is immersive from the start. There is clearly a rich history, leaving plenty to discover throughout the plot and in future installments to come.

Kilpatrick’s writing flows well. There are moments of profound description and lovely prose, particularly with regards to the romance. She accomplishes the difficult feat of getting out of the way of the story itself and leaving the reader to be sucked in, as if they aren’t reading at all.

Filled with dark themes, Revenge of the Vampir King challenges the standards of romance, pushing the limits of love with blood and betrayal. If you’re looking for a book that you can’t put down, this is a sure bet.

Book Review: Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

4/5 stars!

Broken on the Inside (Black Shuck Books) is a collection of five very dark short stories by Phil Sloman. All start from a point of psychological turmoil, the mind building its own madness which then manifests into something physically and disturbingly real.

The lead story, “Broken on the Inside, is an example of the power of mind control and the unintended consequences of the manipulation of others, in this case murder. “Discomfort Food will probably put you off your burger and chips. “The Man Who Fed the Foxes and “There Was an Old Man (be warned, there are some gross moments!) are accounts of mental breakdown in the starkest detail whilst “Virtually Famous flips and distorts reality.

Yes, it is a small collection, but Broken on the Inside packs a big punch. Strong, powerful and wonderfully dark, this is high quality writing and I would happily recommend it to anyone and everyone. 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Thriller Season 2

Though Flawed, Thriller’s Second Season Remains Frightful

By Kristin Battestella
In 1961, Boris Karloff returned as host for Year Two of the spooky and suspenseful anthology series Thriller. With 30 episodes a season, the mixed focus on scares and scandal runs thin at times. However, several thrilling and frightful gems –with a few from Big K himself – keep this season entertaining.
Disc One of Thriller’s Second Year opens with an ill wife, an easy to suspect a husband, and pretty younger sister in “What Beckoning Ghost?” Directed by Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker), the suspense, coffins, premonitions, wills, and funerary wreaths escalate the gaslighting versus supernatural possibilities. Smart shadow placement and quality editing on the toppers combine for a nice mix of both scary and crime – a positive blend in the identity crisis that will continually hamper Thriller. Also directed by Lupino and adapted by Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone), “Guillotine” sets the French flavor with slicing practice, dark prisons, and jingling shackles. The delicious intro from Karloff, crimes of passion, simmering pace, and seduction anchor the sinister poisons versus ticking clock executions. Although the plot boils down to a straightforward crime, the unique period piece tone and final twists make up the difference, and “The Premature Burial” ups Thriller in full on, macabre Poe fashion. Boris himself is involved with this dreary Victorian tale, its elaborate tombs, questionable deaths, and catalepsy – and this episode aired before the release of the 1962 Roger Corman film adaptation. The larger than usual cast, great costumes, and fancy sets add to the deceit, unfaithfulness, and obsession while the black and white accents the morbid fail safes, bells, turnabouts, and demented performances. More statues and fortune tellers highlight “The Weird Tailor,” written by Robert Bloch (Psycho) and also later adapted in the 1972 Amicus anthology film Asylum. The deadly sorcery mistakes here can’t be amended, but the special eponymous request leads to marital dysfunction, one unusual sewing dummy, and fine social drama amid the occult intensity.
Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Tom Poston (Newhart), and John Carradine (Bluebeard) start off Disc Two with the lighthearted, perfect for Halloween farce “Masquerade.” From a writer on a honeymoon and a stormy night breakdown to ominous music, the Psycho house setting the scene, and rumors of vampires afoot – even Karloff’s introduction is unabashedly in on the spooky winks, tongue in cheek tone, and self aware repartee. Maybe the vampire cliches are too hammy for some viewers expecting true scares, but fortunately, the haunted house kooky and maze like bizarre contribute to a delightful kicker! “The Last of the Sommervilles” – again directed and also written by that oft Thriller gal Ida Lupino – has hastily buried bodies as garden fertilizer as well as Karloff once again making a slick appearance alongside Martita Hunt (Anastasia). This greedy family has plenty of crazy aunts and hidden relations with inheritance double crosses and Victorian irony. The actual murder how tos are a little loose, but sinister bathtub suggestions and fine interplay raise the suspense. Intense silhouettes, a bemusing score, card game puns, and old ladies with binoculars make the crimes in “A Third for Pinochle” all seem so quaint in this quid pro quo social etiquette meets hatchets tale. The belittling frumpy wives and unassuming killer neighbors ala The ‘Burbs is perhaps too similar to Season One’s “A Good Imagination” also starring Edward Andrews (Sixteen Candles), however, there’s enough whimsy to accent the hi-jinks while thunderstorms, slamming windows, a spooky castle, dungeon cobwebs, and great costumes up the scares in “The Closed Cabinet.” The medieval riddles sound like nonsensical hyperbole, but the 1880 flair, disbelieving lineage, and a superb black and white mood add to the ghostly beckoning, gothic dressings, and ye olde medieval harmonies.
For Disc Three of this Second Season, Thriller finally caught on with the need for more in on the game Karloff and serves up two tales both featuring Boris in different roles for “Dialogues with Death.” Morgue slabs, afterlife questions, skeptical reporters mocking the idea of asking the departed who killed them – and that’s the first half before more American Gothic swamps, flooded mausoleums, and catalepsy. Thriller can seems redundant or as if its running out of content with too many family scares in a row, especially so if every episode had been this kind of multi-plot variety, but writer Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone) picks up the slack with a crazy uncle and his unusual internment requests in “The Return of Andrew Bentley.” The shrill sounds effects are terrible, indeed, however, familiars, necromancy, and occult warnings on tampering with the perimeters of death add to the moody marital discord. Wow, Jo Van Fleet (Wild River) looks so beautiful and evil alongside pup Bruce Dern (The ‘Burbs) and the again suspicious John Carradine in “The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk.” The quaint farm, cute piglets, weird whimsy, and county fair gentility belies the ruthless thieves and deadly rural. This toes the too goofy line, but there are some fun chess battles had here. More creepy voices, shadows, nightmares, and a noose start “An Attractive Family” before Leo G. Carroll (Spellbound) and Robert Long (The Big Valley) duel over crafty but thwarted spousal accidents that keep the audience guessing to the end.
“Waxworks” leads Disc Four with uncomfortably realistic designs and what you think you see tricks setting the mood for another Robert Bloch tale. The cops are trite, however French flavor adds to the Old World atmosphere, double take scares, unexpected violence, and noir style – making for another pleasing combination of the crime and paranormal parents on Thriller. Ursula Andress (Dr. No) looks divine for “La Strega,” making the viewer care for the peasantry even if the Italian setting is slightly stereotypical and somewhat Spanish thanks to Ramon Novarro (Mata Hari) and Alejandro Rey (The Flying Nun). Once again director Ida Lupino builds an Old Country and foreign horror feeling with witches, familiars, and a dangerous mix of beauty, curses, and superstitions. Operatic orchestration accents the romantic tragedy and inevitable pursuits that can’t be outrun while creepy crones ascend toward the camera with their dread uninterrupted. More screams, black cats, and solitary perils elevate the standard premise, understandable fears, and expected suspicions in “The Storm.” Pesky cabbies and unheeded warnings escalate toward frightful power outages, deadly downpours, animal knee jerks, natural scares, and a fine topper. “A Wig for Miss Devore” begins with past executions and fatal beauties before film within a film aging starlets and movie magic deceptions featuring John Fiedler (The Bob Newhart Show). It’s interesting to have seemingly contemporary talk of parts for 25 year old fresh red heads only and a 38 year old has been who was finished at 32 – a swift social commentary on desperate charms and Hollywood extremes. Thriller is on point when the crimes are supernatural, period set, or elevated with more cultural dimension as in “The Hollow Watcher.” Backwoods murder and Irish mail order brides lead nosy but fearful townsfolk, local legends, and phantom vengeance with scandalous touches and schemes compensating for anything that may appear comical now. Besides, scarecrows are already disturbing enough, right? The series peaks here with what may be the single best disc in the complete Thriller collection.
Karloff’s final in character appearance in “The Incredible Doktor Markesan” leads Disc Five with excellent slow, stilted moves and a sunken, deathly veneer. Suspicious medical university secrets, a kitchen with food so old its turned to dust, and inquisitive nephew Dick York (Bewitched) accent the no trespassing signs, old newspapers, and eerie meetings. Terrifically terrifying makeup and music ala The Gentleman from Buffy highlight this mix of murder and science, going for the scares as Thriller should have done all along. “Flowers of Evil” brings yet more ghoulishness with skeletal props and Victorian flavor. How does one come into the business of procuring bad luck bones to sell, anyway? coughmurdercough. Though overlong in some spots, budding forensics, cadavers, and dissection keep the gruesome mood afloat. Robert Bloch pens the western set “Til Death Do Us Part” with a fortune hunting undertaker in a town where the dead body business isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. The comedic music is overdone, but the unique setting, murderous intentions, and eloping in a horse drawn Hearst are much more fun when played for the macabre bigamy gone bad. “The Bride Who Died Twice” has torture, creepy Mexican generals, and unwilling marital alliances with a wonderfully different setting, epic music, and lovely costumes accenting the star crossed lovers and corruption from director Ida Lupino. Despite the horrors of revolution, fine cinematic flair, and all around period delightful, ironically this strictly dramatic hour doesn’t seem like it belongs on Thriller. Fortunately, Mary Tyler Moore sings Cole Porter in “Man of Mystery,” setting a swanky, urbane feeling for this whodunit full of playboys, money, secrets, and escalating obsessions, and Ida Lupino bows out her Thriller directing on Disc Six with sulfuric acid, animal trophies, timid librarians, iron fisted new bosses, and play within a play winks for the dual femmes in “The Lethal Ladies.”
Since it took so long for Thriller to get its full on horror, it’s tempting to give several pedestrian episodes a free pass. As the spelling suggests, “God Grante that She Lye Stille” serves up ye olde burning at the stake declarations before more familiar moonlight curses almost pull off all the horror stops. Unfortunately, the odd, interchangeable combination of witches and vampires doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders. The room to room opening and closing doors in “Letter to a Lover” feel like an old Scooby Doo montage, complete with repetitive, nondescript country manor suspicions, subservient minorities, subterfuge, and murder. Someone even nearly says, “And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you kids!” “Portrait without a Face” has a neat premise, but John Newland (One Step Beyond) starts with a hammy Vincent Price imitation before one annoying, cackling old lady and a slow double talk investigation that can’t fill up the 50 minute runtime. “Cousin Tundifer” repeats the Edward Andrews humor and comical music, missing the teleportation and topsy turvy time irony and opportunity on laughter and yet another nephew trying to get rich while “Kill My Love” also rinse repeats murder, adultery, and gas leaks. Young George Kennedy (Dallas) can’t save the obvious and disposable Burke and Hare plots of “The Innocent Bystanders,” and as to the crooks and cops of “The Specialists”…yawn. For such a short run, Thriller over relies on too many of the same witches, suspicious couples, amoral families, murderers, and profiteers, and in retrospect, the series seems reluctant to fully embrace its built in horror mantle. I suppose mystery and adultery of the week were simply cheaper to film than weekly macabre. That doesn’t mean that the suspense and crime episodes aren’t entertaining – Thriller provides a little something for everyone across the spectrum from witty to scary and everything in between. Through today’s lense, however, Thriller appears to play it safe more often than it should.
Thankfully, mid century furs, pearls, old technology, fedoras, cool cars, and classy interiors add charm alongside somewhat simplistic but atmospheric and fitting ghost effects – which were probably pretty elaborate for a time when $3, a cup of coffee, or 20 cents a mile paid the cab driver and real operators connected the phone line. Thunder, lightning, fire, mirrors, and black and white ambiance accent the 17th century through Victorian times. Again, it probably wasn’t cost prohibitive to always be period set, but more mood and effort seems to grace the historical pieces, and those well dressed interiors and gothic feelings carry Thriller regardless of the time period onscreen. The series may not be as immediately recognizable as The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, however, Thriller does have a universally spooky atmosphere. Part of that may be Karloff’s lure, but he’s still having a good time doing the introductions, even occasionally getting into it with more spunk on the weaker episodes – popping in amid the sets more like Serling this season and quoting Shakespeare in the cemetery! Although the soft voices and sometimes bombastic sounds on this Complete Thriller series set are still obnoxious, more fine Jerry Goldsmith scores add ambiance and can be isolated on select episodes alongside commentaries and other treats.
This second season lags across the middle discs, and a shorter season with more Karloff would have been so sweet, but I’m happy Thriller righted itself this year with a more scary focus. I’d love to see the earlier Karloff series The Veil for comparison, but unfortunately, those sets appear incomplete, elusive, and unavailable on Netflix. Today, a show like Thriller would have been continuously tweaked into its short ruin with all half horror horrors reaching for stunt casting guests and anything and everything shocking in a desperate grab for ratings. Overall, Thriller’s attempt at a suspenseful and scary middle ground is uneven and divisive, leaving audiences to skip around the scary or pick and choose the scandal. However, I’m glad the series didn’t cater to the lowest audience with cheap horror, and thus, Thriller remains sophisticated fun be it murder or macabre.